The Cure have been my favourite band for half of my life, but that sort of devotion doesn’t have to come at the cost of one’s critical faculties. On the contrary, doggedly insisting that everything Robert & co. put out is somehow equally fantastic is to condemn “Plainsong” and “The Figurehead” to Harrison Bergeron-like bondage. To wit, The Cure have put out some clunkers. Conversely, they’ve also let some gems slide into comparative obscurity. While having a gold mine of incredible B-sides in which to indulge is one of the great perks of being a Cure fanatic, having the flow and strength of their albums interrupted by sub-par or (perhaps more relevant to this piece) ill-fitting tracks is one of the pitfalls. It’s in that spirit that I offer this list of four replacements of Cure album tracks with B-sides released on the matching album’s singles.
The purpose of these hypothetical swaps is twofold: to raise the profile of amazing Cure songs which casual fans haven’t heard, and to strengthen the overall thematic and sonic presentation of Cure albums as albums, not just as simple collections of songs (insert cliched whinging about kids today not “getting” the album as an art form). There’s going to be plenty of smudged lipstick bloviating in this post as is, so let’s get right to it.
4. Wish: Replace “Wendy Time” with “This Twilight Garden”
The obvious switch. Cure fans have been complaining about “Wendy Time”‘s inclusion on Wish pretty much since the day the album was released, and the fact that “This Twilight Garden” was released just a few weeks earlier as a B-side on the “High” single prompted even more tearing of Aqua-Netted hair. “This Twilight Garden” is everything “Wendy Time” isn’t: dreamy, gorgeous, languid (rather than sour, irritating, prolonged). It’s exactly the sort of deep album cut which, while never seeing release as a single, Cure fans latch onto and never let go of.
Doing a straight swap without rearranging any track ordering works fine in this case: the wrenching tragedy of “From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea” preceding “Garden” only makes its succor more lush, and its sleepy pace makes the subsequent “Doing The Unstuck” even more manically peppy. Robert’s taste for funk and psychedelic tunes had been expressed somewhat questionably in The Cure’s past (let’s be real: “Never Enough” has always been a little lacking), but never as egregiously as on “Wendy Time”. While its total exclusion from live performances since the “Wish” tour suggests that the band was as keen to forget about it as their fanbase, its funky sass would be refined and revisited a few years later on Wild Mood Swings. Speaking of which…
3. Wild Mood Swings: Replace “Trap” with “Ocean”
Robert’s psych-heavy guitar on “Trap” isn’t half bad, really, but by the time you reach track 12 of WMS there’s very little this song has to offer musically or lyrically which hasn’t already been explored. For an album which prided itself on genre-hopping experimentation (often to a maddening degree), “Trap” feels conservative and unnecessary.
Wild Mood Swings yielded plenty of B-sides. Some, like “Adonais” and “Home“, sound more suited to the sound of Wish, one (“It Used To Be Me“) almost anticipates the band’s self-titled record from nearly eight years later, and another (“A Pink Dream”) is a picture-perfect recreation of the pure pop glory of “Inbetween Days” and “Just Like Heaven”. While the latter’s the strongest song of the batch by far (read an argument for its inclusion here), it’s the understated, almost apologetically pretty “Ocean” which feels both the most like a WMS track and yet distinct from the other songs which made the cut. After axing “Trap” I’d wedge “Ocean” between “Strange Attraction” and “Mint Car”, breaking up the feel-good singles by tripping over its own shoelaces headfirst into a field of flowers.
2. The Head On The Door: Replace “Screw” with “The Exploding Boy”
“Screw” is a cute and goofy enough tune, but its lasting legacy is pretty much just as a palate cleanser before the slow dirge of “Sinking” brings The Head On The Door to a close, whereas the romping bass and joyous yelps of “The Exploding Boy” deserve a higher profile. Truth be told I prefer “A Few Hours After This…” when it comes to Head B-sides, but this exercise is about record cohesion.
A huge part of Head‘s appeal is the change in moods from song to song (it’s WMS‘ more compact antecedent), and happily some quick track order shuffling – putting “The Exploding Boy” in “The Baby Screams”‘ six-spot and giving the latter “Screw”‘s penultimate position – not only preserves that dynamic but would also lend a hypothetical LP the famous “four corners” approach which record execs used to care so much about: “Inbetween Days” / “Push” / “The Exploding Boy” / “Sinking”. Boom. “Screw” would be perfectly serviceable as a B-side, and I think the distinctions between it and “A Few Hours” would be of benefit to both songs were they to be placed together on the flip-side of the “Inbetween Days” 12″.
1. Disintegration: Replace “Lovesong” with “Fear Of Ghosts”
Okay, quit it. I’m trying to sleep and I can hear you protesting all the way from the other side of the fucking Internet. “Good Lord, man! Yes, ‘Fear Of Ghosts’ might be The Cure’s most celebrated B-side apart from ‘This Twilight Garden’ and we fans have long said that it was as good as anything on Disintegration, but at what cost do you embark upon this quest? Surely your ships shall fall off the edge of the world if you forsake the band’s highest charting single! Recant your heresy and buy another copy of the 7″ box on eBay as penance before you’re struck down!”
Take a deep breath, scroll up and play “Ocean” if you haven’t already, fix yourself a mug of tea and calm down. Regardless of whatever “Lovesong” means to you, I want you to think about it in the context of Disintegration as a complete album. It’s an honest, forthright, and unambiguous love song written by Robert as a birthday present for his wife…placed in the middle of an album which is about almost nothing but the collapse of relationships (“Fascination Street” and “Lullaby” are the obvious exceptions, “Plainsong” is written in the past tense and contains grim foreshadowing). The tune, arrangement and production of “Lovesong” are all equally at odds with the booming, impossibly vast soundscapes of Disintegration; “Lovesong” nods along at a decent clip, with each track mixed cleanly and distinct from each other (a subtle but no doubt significant factor contributing to the endless wave of inferior cover versions).
None of this is news, least of all to Robert. In his own words, Robert contended that “Lovesong” “makes many people think twice. If that song wasn’t on the record, it would be very easy to dismiss the album as having a certain mood. But throwing that one in sort of upsets people a bit because they think, ‘That doesn’t fit.'” He’s right of course (except about Disintegration being otherwise easy to dismiss), but this is also a classic case of Robert’s whimsical oscillation between his “you can’t pigeonhole The Cure, we go wherever our fancy takes us” position and his tendency towards shameless fan service: there was certainly no mention of needing to upset a mood during the PR blitz for the Trilogy concerts (obligatory disclaimer: Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography are the only albums which remotely function in tandem as a trilogy) – the consistent sound and mood of Disintegration, “Lovesong” excepted, was championed then, and rightly so. Whatever the reasoning for “Lovesong”‘s inclusion at the time, the enduring legacy of Disintegration as The Cure’s greatest album (and yes, I’m in the camp who hold with that) is rooted in factors which the song only detracts from.
So, if “Lovesong” is trimmed, what gets pasted in? There’s an argument to be made for not adding anything: Disintegration is mammoth even without “Lovesong”, and the tracklist isn’t the stuff of legend without reason. If one were to tamper with perfection in such a way, it’d have to be by adding “Fear Of Ghosts”. While “2 Late” is my all-time favourite Cure B-side by a large stretch, it doesn’t flow with the rest of the record any more than “Lovesong”. “Babble” and “Out Of Mind” are decent, but not up to “best album ever” snuff. That leaves the stark, spiraling “Fear Of Ghosts”, a track surely wrought from the same musical essence as “The Same Deep Water As You” and “Prayers For Rain”, despite its self-eviscerating lyrics having more in common with “Untitled”.
Finding a spot for “Ghosts” is tricky, but if we’re talking about a single LP release, having it follow “Fascination Street” to close out the first side would make the most sense. Things get a bit touch and go with a CD tracklist, as having “Ghosts”, “Prayers”, and “Deep Water” coming in a row makes for over twenty minutes of low-tempo misery (we’re tweaking Disintegration, remember, not Pornography). In such a case I’d go with placing it between “Lullaby” and “Fascination Street”, and possibly even flipping the order of those two tracks.
As you can probably tell from this little trip down the rabbit hole, I’ve been chewing on this “Lovesong” issue for a while. Hell, “Lovesong” doesn’t even have to be relegated to being a B-side, it can be a stand-alone single like “Charlotte Sometimes”; I just want to advance the possibility that the totality of Disintegration is made stronger by its absence. (You don’t have to take my word for it – if you’ve actually read all of this you’ve got Disintegration on your computer, just remove “Lovesong” from the playlist the next time you cue it up and insert “Ghosts” if you see fit.)
Editor’s note: Bruce owns approximately fifty Cure shirts and used to hang out on the Babble and Descent mailing lists back in the days when teachers didn’t know you could use computers to slack off. Engage in Cure-related pedantry with him in the comments at your own risk.